Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ruse on compatibility of evolution and religions like Christianity

Michael Ruse finds it hard to reconcile the contingency of evolution with the necessity of there being human or human-like beings;

intelligent beings, with moral awareness, able to act in this world, have to exist if Christianity is true

Jerry Coyne agrees as one would expect from an anti-accommodationist.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The big accommodation debate

Just found this very helpful link on Jerry Coyne's blog of the accommodation debate or free-for-all from last June. This is the episode started by Coyne with his New Republic article on Miller and Giberson that I mentioned a few posts back. Here's another link at edge that essentially has the same material some way down the page.

Wilkins on the great accommodation debate.

This link to an article by Blackford on Wilkins seems to belong here.

This will be useful to me, if no body else, so I've posted it here for easy reference.

You're not helping will help no more

Russell Blackford gives a eulogy for the You're not helping blog which turned out not to help. I've posted a few links from that blog to try and give a bit of balance I suppose. I hadn't noticed how poor it was. By the way, my name is Brian. Russell can vouch for that.

PZ Myers has gives his view.

Found this as well at The Buddha is not serious.

Ophelia Benson on You're not helping. Seems whoever was behind the blog was not doing the accommodation 'cause' any favours.

Jerry Coyne has a cute take.

Greg Laden too.


Greg Laden reports that the YNH guy has left an apologetic note on The Budda is not serious' blog.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Some more on the MN/PN distinction

Here's an interesting post on the MN/PN distinction and what science is.

World Science Festival episode

Back at the start of June 2010 The World Science festival had a Templeton sponsored panel. This organization seems to promote anybody who endorses or argues for compatibility of science and religion. Whatever type of compatibility that might be. New atheists need not apply.

Jerry Coyne wasn't for it. Sean Carroll agreed with Coyne. Chad Orzel disagreed. Josh Rosenau disagreed with Coyne too. Jason Rosenhouse disagreed with Orzel and Rosenau. Ophelia Benson disagrees with Rosenau. Tom Paines ghost was there (supernatural!) And I'm sure You're not helping didn't help.

Wilkins on accommodation

John S. Wilkins starts a series of posts on how a religious person might find evolution and their religious beliefs philosophically compatible, as opposed to just being psychologically compatible.
In this first post, he explores the deistic option and the convergence option. Wilkins is worth a read, even if you don't agree with him. He doesn't find the two options mention as compatible in the sense that anti-accommodationists claim isn't possible, but will suggest how this can be done in a later post. At least that's what I got when briefly skimming his blog post.

Episode n+1

Jen McCreight of Blag Hag blog posts about an a symposium devoted to accommodationism at the Evolution 2010 conference to which no anti-accommodationists were invited. Apparently atheists are the mirror image of creationists.

Ophelia Benson weighs in.

Jerry Coyne as well.

The inimitable PZ Myers of Pharyngula has a crack.

Russell Blackford too.

For the other side:

You're not helping having a crack at Jerry Coyne. And commenting on Chris Mooney article that's in the previous post. I guess this episode (n+1) isn't discrete from n.

Episode n of the debate

I'll just post this set of links. If you are a follower of the accommodation debate you'll be familiar with the parties involved and possibly with these particular articles.

First up we had a pro argument in the Huffington Post by Alan I. Leshner, CEO of the AAAS.

Then an anti discussion at Ophelia Benson's Butterflies and Wheels. Some good comments there IMO.

Russell Blackford enlarged on the discussion on his Metamagician blog.

John Pieret critiques Blackford on his (Pieret's) Thoughts in a Haystack blog.

That's where I lost the trail on this episode of the debate. I'm sure there were more posts on blogs.

[EDIT] Update, discovered more spore and picked up the trail!

Chris Mooney, riffs on Ishners HuffPo piece at the Intersection blog.

Ophelia Benson was not amused.

Russell Blackford elaborated on a cracking comment by Eric MacDonald (commenting on the previous link's article) on Butterflies and Wheels. Even if you violently oppose Eric's views, you've got to admit the man can write!

Jerry Coyne critiques Chris Mooney. I need some form of tree diagram to show the linkage here!

You're not helping critiques Coyne. Plenty of snark.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Some contemporary anti-anti-accommodationist views

I'm a bit snowed under at the moment so instead of trawling through blog posts of a year ago I'll post something more contemporary. Something of an anti-anti-accommodationist or anti-new atheist bent. Does anti-anti-accommodationist function like a double negative and thus be identical with accommodationist? I don't know, but it might. I also need to work some abbreviations for accommodationist and anti-accommodationist as it's a pain to type those words all the time.

Here's a post from the Rationally Speaking blog by Massimo Pigliucci from February 2010. I quite like Pigliucci's terming of anti-accomodationists/new atheists as purists. It's shorter and has a certain snark value. There's a lot of snark from both sides, and coincidentally a lot of complaints about tone. Massimo raises the methodolical naturalism (MN)/philosophical naturalism (PN) distinction to argue against then anti-accommodationist view. Basically science assumes MN for pragmatic reasons, it doesn't need to assume PN. Roughly if science is limited to MN then what it can say and blunted in arguments about incompatibility. Earlier I stated that there were no attempts to refute the epistemic incompatibility thesis. I'd forgotten about the invocation of the MN/PN distinction. My bad. Whether it works as a refutation is another matter. As was pointed out previously in comments, if you don't think epistemic incompatibility works then there's nothing to refute in the first place.

For a bit more anti-anti commentary with snark that's even more recent, try this from You're not helping. The issue of tone, specifically the anti-accommodationists tone toward accommodationists/believers surfaces

In their passionate attempts to marginalize religious belief, the antiaccommodationists’ shock-jock tactics and parlor games are ending up marginalizing themselves.

I wonder how true this is. Aren't atheists marginalised already to some extent in society, at least that's what I hear about the U.S.? Anyway, your mileage may vary. The important thing is there are trenchant supporters of both sides and that's a good thing. Isn't it?

Anyway, I'll try to bet back to some replies to Coyne's article in the New Republic time permitting. I think you'll see that there is a lot of overlap between what was said a year or two ago and what's being said now.

An anti-accommodationist salvo

In order to give a feel of the debate, or at least parts that I've stumbled across, I want to look at an article by Jerry Coyne in the New Republic. Later I'll look at replies both supporting and arguing against Coyne.

I think it's fair to say that Coyne is firmly in the anti-accommodationist camp. He wrote the New Republic article to review books by Kenneth Miller and Karl Giberson that attempt to reconcile religion and science. Miller, and Giberson, both scientists, believe that religion and evolution are compatible, that is, they belong to the accommodationist camp. Being religious and scientists this would be inevitable, though many accommodationists are atheists, just not of the new variety.

Coyne's article covers the political and philosophical aspects of the debate. The political aspect is concerned with how to change the fact that many Americans do not accept the science of evolutionary theory because it conflicts with their specific religious beliefs. This means the political dispute arises from the philosophical. As I've stated before the so called new atheists, and thus anti-accommodationists, are loud and proud, or strident and shrill depending on your own vantage point. For them attacking creationism with science and rationality is par for the course. This rankles many. According to Coyne, for some accommodationists at least, the fault then lies at the feet of the new atheists. If only the uppity atheists would tip-toe around the thorny issue of compatibility so that the faithful would have no problem reconciling their beliefs and evolution.

So the obstacle to understanding is not religion, it is those aggressive atheistevolutionists who won't shut up.

If this statement is accurate then there is a denial of free speech here and an unsupported assertion that the rejection of evolutionary theory has accompanied the recent phenomenon of atheists asserting their message and challenging religious hegemony. It is easy to see that this would upset the anti-accommodationists and that they couldn't endorse a policy based upon it. One could be snarky here and suggest that given that evolution has been rejected by some segments of the religious for many decades and new atheism is so recent then perhaps it's an example of reverse causation.

It is reported that the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) supports a broadly accommodationist stance as it has a statement that

Many scientists have written eloquently about how their scientific studies of biological evolution have enhanced rather than lessened their religious faith.

but not mentioning that many scientists do not find specific religious beliefs and evolution compatible. This is problematic because the anti-accommodationists feel that the body should take no political position on the issue and solely focus on advancing science. It should not be partisan. It follows then that they would not endorse the NAS supporting any anti-accommodationist stance either.

On the philosophical side the article raises different versions of compatibility in dispute; first psychological compatibility,

there are religious scientists and Darwinian churchgoers. But this does not mean that faith and science are compatible, except in the trivial sense that both attitudes can be simultaneously embraced by a single human mind

and epistemic incompatibility,

[t]he real question is whether there is a philosophical incompatibility between religion and science. Does the empirical nature of science contradict the revelatory nature of faith?

Coyne continues by arguing that one way to make science and religion compatible in an epistemic sense is to redefine one to be encompassed by the other. If by religion we mean pantheism, identifying nature with god, then there is no incompatibility between science and religion for example. This point is important because there are versions of religious beliefs that are or can be made philosophically compatible with scientific knowledge. Philosopher's gods, such as deistic or ground of all being deities seem compatible with science, at least they don't contradict the knowledge derived from science specifically because they make no claims to knowledge about the observable. But these deities have lost their personal nature and thus what makes them appealing to many believers. Why pray to an indifferent force or entity? My previous post stated that epistemic incompatibility was between science and religion. But that was so indefinite as to be wrong. It is between the knowledge we derived from science and specific religious claims that incompatibility arises. A question then is whether believers are happy to alter or give up any beliefs that are incompatible with scientific knowledge. Young Earth creationists reject evolutionary theory because it directly conflicts with their beliefs about the origin of humans and the age of the Earth.

Coyne offers some more examples of somewhat procrustean attempts to make science and religious claims compatible and in the end, which is not surprising for an anti-accommodationist, finds them unsatisfactory.

I recommend reading the article as I believe Coyne shows none of the stridency or shrillness often attributed (mostly falsely in my opinion) to the new atheists while still disagreeing with Miller and Giberson. Again I'd just like to point out the above is my understanding of the issues and whilst I'm biased I hope I haven't seriously misrepresented anybody. If I have please feel free to point this out in the comments.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


This blog's raison d'etre is to pull together disparate sites and views on the accommodation debate. What is the accommodation debate? Put simply, are science and religion compatible? Your answer to this question will go a long way to determining which side of the debate you lie. The side that views science and religion as compatible are somewhat derogatively termed accommodationists. The opposing side anti-accommodationists, or the new atheists. The later term is considered a put down often as it contrasts the so called new atheists with 'old atheists' who were/are considered to be cut from a finer cloth. The differences between new and old atheists is not so much philosophical, after all, if both don't believe in a deity there's not much to quibble about on that head, but political. New atheists are loud and proud and are happy to goad and belittle religious belief and unmerited, in their opinion, deference given it in society. John S. Wilkins, who is one of many internet denizens involved in the accommodation debate prefers to term new atheists as affirmative atheists. This term is not encumbered with the baggage associated with the new atheism sobriquet, but it seems we're stuck with the new atheism. Some so called new atheists have embraced the term and have written books to support new atheism*. New atheism then is more than anti-accommodationism, but on the subject they are roughly co-extensive. However, you'll have to take my word on that.

The accommodation debate does seem to have the air of two groups talking past each other. This seems to lead to exasperation between the opposing parties. The anti-accommodation group argue roughly that science as a means or method of obtaining knowledge about the world based on reason and evidence is incompatible with religion which makes knowledge claims about the world based on revelation, scripture and personal experience that is not subjected, nor could be subjected, to empirical testing. This form of incompatibility has been termed epistemic incompatibility. Epistemology is the theory of knowledge, so epistemic incompatibility is an incompatibility of knowledge claims or methodology. A religious claim may be false, but there would be no way to determine this using religious methods, whereas a false claim in science can be shown to be false using scientific methodology. The accommodationists claim that religion and science are compatible because there are as a matter of fact many religious scientists or many religious people who accept scientific results and still believe in religious claims such as God existing and having a plan for them. This then is not a knowledge claim so much as claim that it is psychologically possible, and often evidenced, that people can find the findings of science and the claims of religion as compatible. This type of compatibility then is psychological compatibility. It is possible then that a person accepts that humans evolved from some common ancestor with all other life on the Earth and still holds that human beings have a special relationship with God and are part of some divine plan for example. The anti-accommodationists have stated that they do not deny psychological accommodation happens or that it is common. Here is why the groups seem to argue past each other. But if the anti-accommodationists accept that psychological accommodation occurs, why then do accommodationists bring up psychological compatibility as a refutation of epistemic incompatibility? In this post I'm not investigating the soundness of the epistemic incompatibility thesis nor contesting the psychological compatibility argument as the latter seems plainly obvious, every person holds views that are irrational or contradictory on some point. Given that the epistemic incompatibility thesis is correct, for the sake of argument, then a refutation of it is what is required. It is not relevant to the case at hand to point to another form of compatibility. That this happens might simply be attachment or loyalty to one's own side, refusal to consider the arguments of the anti-accommodationists, lack of insight into the different forms of compatibility/accommodation, or various other reasons, some less savoury than others.

If you've read this far, you'll no doubt have worked out which side of the debate I lean towards. I've tried to be fair in presenting a simplified version of the debate so that following posts can flesh it out or sharpen up terms and arguments. We all have our biases and I'll try to minimize mine, but I'd be a liar if I claimed I did not have any.

*Victor Stenger for example.